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First responders recount ‘remarkable’ survival at trench collapse site

WATE
WATE
 2022-01-15

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Two men survived a trench collapse in Powell. It’s a feat the rescuers on the scene are calling remarkable.

Two men were trapped under several feet of soil at a construction site on East Beaver Creek Drive just before noon on Thursday. That’s right next to the Evergreen at the Bluffs apartment complex.

By Thursday evening, after eight hours of rescue operations, both were freed.

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“Patient number one was buried basically up to the shoulders. Patient number two was completely buried,” said John Whited, the Rescue Chief at Rural Metro Fire Department. “I’ve been doing this a long time in Knox County and we’ve never had one this deep in Knox County that’s survivable, and it’s absolutely amazing.”

On Friday morning, Rural Metro said one of the men had already been released from the hospital. Another was still there.

“When they went into that crouched position, that’s really what saved them. Because it was kind of like a position that you see the airline industry tells you to assume a crash position with your head down between your knees or as close to your knees as you can get it, and that’s kind of the way they were. So that gave them a pocket of air where the dirt was on top of them,” said Rural Metro spokesperson Jeff Bagwell.

The first responders in charge of the operation walked us through what they did, and why they had to do it.

“With any rescue operation like this, trench rescue, we have to stabilize the site first. And then we use shoring, which is to be able to hold the walls of the trench back. Then we’ll start our excavation process to remove the victims,” Whited said. “Generally if it is not shored or trench boxed in place, commonly what happens is during this time of year where you have thawing temperatures and freezing temperatures, soil composition has a lot to do with it, and it will cause it to lose cohesion and try to fall on you.”

Whited said he couldn’t speak to whether they saw signs of a trench box in place and said all the shoring our crews saw was done by emergency response personnel.

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Still, the big message is relief and gratitude.

“It is rewarding to know that we had a successful mission. That we were able to change the course of someone’s life, essentially,” Bagwell said.

We also reached out to the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as the office is leading this investigation. A spokesperson said TOSHA is looking into the circumstances that led to this trench collapse to determine if the employer was adhering to all safety and health standards at the time of the incident.

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